September 30, 2016 - 8:00 PM
KAMLOOPS - In a downtown basement every Thursday evening a group gets together to play games and hang out, but some are learning more than others.
The group is lead by Cory Doyle and Danny Seedhouse, a pair of community support workers, and includes some of their clients at Community Living B.C. who live with autism or similar conditions.
The role playing and table top games night didn’t start as an official program. It was a random series of events that started when Doyle was working one day and a client came in with a social worker.
“The first time I met him he stared at a screen for 35 minutes. I timed it because I was like how long will he sit there,” Doyle says. “He just sat in a chair in the front of the housing building and stared at a screen, and the screen was off, and just said nothing.”
Doyle started a conversation with the client about the table top gaming pieces he had around him which drew the client out of his shell a little, so Doyle invited him to a regular games night one evening at a Kamloops gaming store. From there things grew. A new night was started with a group of Doyle and Seedhouse's friends and more clients joining if they showed an interest.
“We’re three-and-half or four years into the group playing and a huge chunk of them are all friends now,” Doyle says
They moved the location to the ASK Wellness basement eight or nine months ago.
“It went from one client to three or four,” Doyle says. “Then a couple guys that were in our programs but not actually clients came down.”
The first client has shown a big change. Doyle remembers him as being rather meek at the first game, following what others told him to do. However, the group encouraged him to make his own choices.
“Normal social interaction wasn’t something he craved or wanted. It was really forced upon him. Once he enjoyed it, it became the thing he wanted to do,” Doyle says. “I honestly think, if you put him into a regular social setting you would not be able to look and say he has a disability. If you put him in just a standard social setting with five or six friends you wouldn’t know, you wouldn’t pick up on it.”
He’s now more independent, has travelled to gaming conventions, is friends with some of Seedhouse and Doyle’s friends and is even looking for work to help fund his gaming.
“It’s pushing him to want employment too. He wants to go work, because he needs money to save up to go to Penny Arcade Expo,” Doyle says.
The games night has helped other clients break out socially and encouraged basic skills and creativity.
“The unofficial nickname for the night is delve night, it’s a term from the game Dungeons and Dragons,” Seedhouse says. “It sort of fit; we’re delving into multiple facets of things.”
Since that first client the pair figure about a dozen clients have participated in the games nights with their friends. Not all have stuck around, but with those who have there’s been a noticeable improvement in social skills.
“The first guys are now mentoring new guys who join,” Seedhouse says. “There’s been an evolution there from cautious, barely participating to bringing new people in and helping them.”
One client was living in one of their buildings as a shut in. When he joined the group things changed. He now works three days a week and is a regular.
“It forced that real interaction between people where they genuinely become friends and start to socialize outside of the circle,” Doyle says. “When we add people in now they realize ‘Ok, well, when I first came in I don’t think anyone really liked me and I was really nervous and this guy seems really nervous.’”
Neither of them know of other groups similar to their’s though they haven’t searched for them since their group came about organically and not through official plans, though Seedhouse has heard of some research going on in the US focusing on tabletop gaming and autism.
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